Hot Take: Strong performances can sometimes help you forgive a film’s ills and Green Book is a prime example. Worth it for Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali who both could receive nominations for their work.
It’s been a few weeks since seeing Green Book so, in fairness, the Take above is warm, at best. However, while the film itself (outside of the scenes repeated ad nauseam throughout the overplayed trailer) doesn’t have an indelible quality, the performances and chemistry between Mortensen in the lead role as Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga and Ali as “Doc” Don Shirley definitely left a lasting impression. The story while based on fact is nothing more than your standard message film primed to make a little bit of noise come Awards season but unlikely to do more than grab a handful of nominations. Maybe Mortensen scores a Best Actor nod and possibily Ali adds a second Support Actor nomination following up on his win from 2 years ago for his supporting role in Moonlight but neither should be favored to score a win. It doesn’t help the film lacks any real punch as it pulls it’s punches throughout delivering a solid but safe story which should satisfy some but not overwhelm anyone.
The film centers on Mortensen’s Vallelonga, a New York City bouncer out of work and looking for something to take care of his family after the nightclub he works at closes for renovations. Willing to do anything including eating competitions or anything else to keep his family fed and sheltered, “Tony Lip” ends up on a job interview with “Doctor” Don Shirley (Ali), a black classical pianist about to embark on a tour through the South in 1962 when blacks were still kept out of establishments and segregation was still prevalent. Declining at first, eventually Vallelonga accepted the position to be Shirley’s chauffeur and valet on the eight-week concert tour.
The rest is somewhat predictable but thanks to their impressive performances, the film is raised a notch above movies of this ilk. While the film’s trailer holds nothing back revealing many of the film’s more endearing scenes, there’s enough throughout left unrevealed to provide the film a small boost, as well. Plus, the music of Shirley which is featured in Green Book provides yet another wrinkle that gives the film yet another subtle lift. All in all, despite criticism of the film’s softer depiction of the South, Mortensen’s use of the N-word and an overall embellishment of the closeness between Tony and Dr. Shirley, there’s enough meat on the bone to make Green Book a worthwhile watch. On the other hand, famed artist Quincy Jones spoke highly of the film and the worthiness of its tale with very little criticism. As someone who experienced this first hand, Jones’s acknowledgement of the film’s accomplishments should be taken into consideration with the rest of the criticisms.
Musician biopics are hot right now and while Dr. Shirley isn’t the main character, it’s just as much his biopic as it is Vallelonga’s.
You’re tired of the softballs thrown out there toward race relations in the ’60s and will sit it out to something more realistic is available.